When construction on the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) wraps up, motorists will sigh with relief and smile in anticipation of easy, breezy commutes.
Of course, weather, distracted drivers and fate mean we'll continue to see crashes and delays. But as workers pour the last concrete, they also are finishing a technological game-changer engineers hope will ease congestion as much as the extra lanes will.
Every half-mile between O'Hare International Airport and Barrington Road, crews are installing gantries -- not for tolls, but for a new "smart road." There will be 29 in total.
Digital signs will provide speed and accident information in real time. When there's a fender-bender, red X's will indicate closed lanes. Messages will update with detours and other advisories such as Amber Alerts. The so-called active traffic management system should go live in spring 2017.
Wireless speed sensors, dozens of cameras and weather stations collect data and transmit it to the tollway dispatch center in Downers Grove. A traffic team analyzes the results and updates the electronic signs.
The technology empowers drivers "to make wise decisions about lane usage," Executive Director Greg Bedalov said. "It's about safety and congestion relief, which leads to environmental benefits, and positioning the tollway to be a 21st-century leader."
Too often, drivers cruise along, then come to a crash and "everything comes to a screeching halt," Bedalov said.
With the smart road, motorists ideally will learn of crashes and closed lanes earlier so they can merge efficiently and move on. "If we get the information to our customers sooner, it will keep traffic flowing more smoothly," Bedalov said.
Message boards above lanes will display green arrows announcing free-flowing movement, yellow arrows telling drivers to slow down and red "Xs" indicating a closed lane.
A larger message board on the far outside lanes will give updates on crashes, travel times and other information.
A separate message board is designated for the shoulder lanes, which will be used by Pace express buses and could occasionally open up to general traffic.
Traffic engineers are calibrating the frequency and length of messages so the advisories inform drivers but don't distract them, Bedalov said.
"We want to avoid over-messaging our customers," he explained, adding that traffic jams have occurred on smart corridors in other states when drivers receiving too much information slow down.
Tollway planners have built an infrastructure that will accommodate additional communication tools as the era of self-driving cars that talk to each other approaches. "When a (driverless car) protocol is established, we'll have a conduit in place to install the necessary equipment, and away we go," Bedalov said.
It will cost the tollway about $33 million for the active traffic management system, including the gantries.
By the end of 2016, the tollway is promising to "return the (I-90) mainline" to drivers. Some landscaping, fencing, ramp and overhead work on the $2.5 billion widening and rebuild project will continue in 2017.
And if you're wondering if a smart corridor will appear on the Reagan Memorial, I-355 or Tri-State tollways, it's possible. The tollway is developing a plan to rebuild the central Tri-State, which would allow for similar technology to be installed there, Bedalov said.
Got a question or comment on the smart corridor? Drop me an email at email@example.com.
One more thing
Metra has launched its 2017 Safety Poster Contest with a theme of "Keep Yourself(ies) Safe: Look, Listen, Live." Students from kindergarten through grade 12 are encouraged to submit drawings or essays demonstrating safe behavior near railway tracks. The theme is focused on social media and the dangers posed by taking photos on or near the tracks. Prizes include an iPad or $250 and $150 gift cards.
Sorry, Elgin. Expect lane reductions and closures on Duncan Avenue and Trout Park Boulevard as part of the Fox River I-90 bridge rebuild starting this week through mid-November.
Got a gripe about a state road? Give IDOT your two cents without leaving home during two webinars offered 5:30 to 7 p.m. Oct. 25 and 6 to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 27. Participants can learn about the state's next six-year highway and bridge priorities during the sessions. To make a comment in advance or sign up, go to idot.illinois.gov/about-idot/stay-connected/events/multi-year-plan-outreach-meetings.